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Why N.E.R.D were the most influential collective of the aughts

With N.E.R.D dropping a new album, we thought it’d be appropriate to dust off the old album crates (open Spotify) and rehash some of the greatness that the Virginia trio has gifted us.

Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley were true innovators in the late 90s and early 2000s. Their sound blended hip-hop, soul, rock music, and funk, shaping the zeitgeist of popular music. All that “genre-bursting” hip-hop you hear these days just wouldn’t be here without N.E.R.D.

As N.E.R.D, the trio released four albums from 2002 to 2010, meaning No_One Ever Really Dies will be the first N.E.R.D project in almost a decade.

The production duo of Williams and Hugo (The Neptunes) was perhaps even more influential and ubiquitous. Combing through The Neptunes’ production credits is a study in the greatest popular music of the aughts.

They produced such a diverse selection of artists from Gwen Stefani to *NSYNC to Snoop Dogg to N.O.R.E. and everyone in between.

With that in mind, here’s some of the best tracks crafted by Williams, Hugo, and Haley that solidified them as the best hitmakers of the aughts.

N.E.R.D – “Lapdance” (2002)

The first track off N.E.R.D’s debut album In Search Of… introduces the band as “something you’ve never seen before” and the sonic range of “Lapdance” damn sure proves that.

The industrial hip-hop synths devolve into distorted power chords showing the diversity of a group that can do anything they want.

N.E.R.D – “Provider” (2002)

Far from the wall of sound of “Lapdance”, “Provider” is a contemplative blues ballad about someone trying to figure out how the hell to make a buck. 15 years later, In Search Of… still stands up today as a work of true genius.

Grindin’ – Clipse (2002)

Is this the best beat of all-time? Yes. If you didn’t drum this on your desk in 6th grade were you even a 90s baby? No.

The Neptunes produced the entitreity of Clipse’s debut studio album Lord Willin’, an absolute classic of the genre.

Beenie Man – “Girls Dem Sugar” (2000)

You just gotta get up and dance when this jawn comes on. The Neptunes really made one of the best dancehall songs of the aughts and it’s not even a dancehall beat.

Some of that is credit to the legendary Beenie Man, but jheeze did these dudes have range.

Baby, Clipse – “What Happened To That Boy” (2002)

Ok, wait maybe this is the hottest hip-hop beat of all-time.

Apropos of nothing, one time in 7th grade, I was walking to the bus stop listening to “What Happened To That Boy” and my father, who was walking with me, asked kindly what I was listening to, putting one of my earbuds in his ear as Birdman called out “What you smell? Coca leaf plants boy!” I think he was concerned.

Usher – “U Don’t Have to Call” (2001)

These dudes produced “What Happened To That Boy”, one of the hardest tracks of the early aughts, and “U Don’t Have to Call”, one of the best R&B songs of the same time period. I don’t even have anything further to say, that’s just wild.

Jay-Z – “Excuse Me Miss” (2002)

Um, how fucking amazing was The Neptunes’ 2002? Look at these hits! As for this beat, it’s so damn smooth even Hov said “You can’t roll a blunt to this one, you gotta light a j.”

The Neptunes always found a way to bring something special out of the artists they collaborated with. Exhibit A: Jay on “Excuse Me Miss”.

Clipse – “Mr. Me Too” (2006)

I tried not to have any repeat artists on this list, but the “Mr. Me Too” beat is just too next level not to include here.

It’s impossible not to make the stank face when listening to this masterpiece.

Snoop Dogg – “Beautiful” (2002)

Ok, RELAX, was 2002 the greatest year of music in recent memory? Did anyone make a song without production from The Neptunes? Is this the smoothest flow of Snoop’s career? Is the video still the best?

Yes to all the above.

Kelis – “Milkshake” (2003)

Oh nah. I think this track accelerated the rate of my generation’s, uh, maturation quite rapidly. Like I was 12 years old vibing to this shit and especially this shit.

It’s still totally unclear what exactly the milkshake really is but it didn’t matter because the song was just too hot.

Ludacris – “Money Maker” (2006)

The Neptunes made some of the best club songs of the aughts. The drums on this song are just perfect.

Also, remember when Luda was the biggest rapper in the game for a quick second? That was a wild time.

Justin Timberlake – Señorita (2002)

Justin Timberlake went from Disney star to boyband frontman to suddenly one of the best pop stars in the world so quickly, buoyed by help from The Neptunes (and Timbaland, shoutout VA).

Was mad hard to pretend I didn’t fuck with this song. Then I learned to stop worrying and appreciate the JT.

Nelly – “Flap Your Wings” (2004)

The production on the chorus of this song is so amazing.

Starting with a rising synth that sounds like its in a wind tunnel about to explode then bursts into careful, groovy organs. Throw this on at a party, see what happens.

Gwen Stefani “Hollaback Girl” (2004)

Remember when Gwen Stefani rebranded from cool alt chick to suddenly sort of problematically appropriating Japanese Harajuku culture? That was weird.

Anyways, the “Hollaback Girl” beat fucking goes. The drums clap as hard as hell then unfold into those blasting horns so perfectly.

Britney Spears – “I’m A Slave 4 U” (2001)

Seems like a lot of artists just hit up The Neptunes when they needed a new sound. This song announced Britney Spears was no longer the Disney child star.

B Spears officially grew up on this track and we all grew up to the video. The Neptunes have many skills but making dirty, grimy, fun club music might just be their best skill.

We’re as hype as you are for the new N.E.R.D record, in the meantime, vibe out to these tracks as we countdown to midnight.